As the men’s underwear market continues to evolve and expand, it’s never been more important for brands to make their designs stand out. Jo Gallacher chats to industry experts to find out how they’re taking on the challenge.

Gone are the days of plain and unimaginative men’s underwear. Both in stores and online, there has never been such a variety of choice for customers.

With the market continually expanding, consumers are becoming more demanding in what they expect from their pants drawer.

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The last few years have seen an explosion in the number of men’s underwear brands, which are driving competition by differentiating themselves and becoming more innovative in what they can offer.

Industry experts spoke to Lingerie Insight about the changing nature of the men’s underwear market, and why brands are turning their backs on the classic white brief.

Hanro retail manager Miranda Dawson says: “In recent years we have seen more of a focus on our fashion lines rather than just basics. Prints, colours and ready-to-wear styles have become more important.

“Men are also buying more of their own underwear now and looking for more fashionable options. Consumers have high expectations for quality and fit but at a competitive price.”

Patricia Eve, which distributes Blackspade in the UK, happens to agree, noting a trend in baggy white cotton boxers being replaced by tighter-fitting boxer briefs.

Advertising and website manager Mike Oates says: “Buyers are starting to realise there is a market for fashionable underwear and even men’s shapewear is being more popular. There has been a bigger focus on comfort and fit over the last few years.

“I believe that more brands will enter the men’s market over the next few years, mainly to open another avenue of income for themselves.”

So as consumers search for more underwear that speaks to their own sense of fashion style, how can brands keep up?

French brand Bluebuck, which credits itself with designing underwear for the rugged and adventurous, says it’s all about the finer details.

“Men can be incredibly demanding and pay so much attention to details: the quality of the construction, the durability of the product and fit and comfort. They want to feel good in what they wear – feeling good in terms of comfort, and feeling good about themselves,” said Bluebuck founder Pierre David.

“Consumers are now being offered vast choice in terms of designs, colours, fits, functionality, fabric performance, brand image and price positioning. So this contributes to making the category more attractive to consumers who may not have been paying attention to it until now.”

Daniel Ouweneel, brand and marketing manager for US brand Jockey also notes that male customers are demanding underwear styles that fall in line with their different leisure activities, such as sport
or travel.

“Jockey is constantly working on new and innovative products which guarantee highest quality and superior comfort. We are always researching new fibres, fabrics and fits to offer the best underwear for all-day, everyday use,” he adds.

The way men shop for their underwear is also changing, with Bluebuck’s online channel continuing to grow significantly.

“Men shop around online a lot; they spend time researching for the brand that will suit them. If they are loyal to a particular brand, then they will continue buying online for the speed and convenience,” explains David.

Ouweneel agrees: “Ecommerce is the future of selling. It’s important to recognise that our customers live busy lives and our time to reach out to them is limited, due to the way they consume so much information online.”

The men’s underwear market is projected to witness an annual growth rate of 5.8% to reach £7.7 billion by 2020, according to a report published by Persistence Market Research.

In the UK, the men’s underwear market is worth £674m a year, a study by research company Mintel states.

Paul Alger, director of International Affairs at the UK Fashion & Textile Association, is delighted to see the resurgence of men’s underwear.

“Men have deserved something more in the underwear department for a very long time, especially in terms of look, fit and feel,” he says.

“Initially, the impetus came from the men’s swim market with brands like Orlebar Brown, Frescobal Carioca and others carving out a new market for men’s swimwear, which was picked up by some of the more adventurous retailers including La Rinascente Milan and Isetan Men’s in Tokyo.”

“Encouraged by this, and a new interest in quality and individuality among younger men, we are now seeing exciting loungewear, sleepwear and underwear launches in what used to be a staid and unadventurous market,” Alger adds.

With the not-so-brief affair with plain white underwear coming to an end, the next few years are set to be an exciting time for innovation and creativity within the men’s underwear market. It’s up to the brands to keep the pace up, and continue to deliver high quality, fashionable attire.

Global value of the men’s underwear market

The men’s underwear market is projected to witness an annual growth rate of 5.8% to reach £7.7 billion by 2020, according to a recent report by Persistence Market Research.

The report, published in August 2015, states that growing disposable income and a preference for branded underwear that offers better fit and comfort are major factors fuelling demand for premium underwear, thereby driving the growth of the men’s underwear market.

By region, BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) dominates the market, with a share of over 35% and is expected to remain dominant throughout the forecast period.

Europe was the second most dominant region, with a 17.4% share in 2014. The men’s underwear market in Europe and North America is expected to see an annual growth rate of 5.1% and 3.9% respectively during the forecast period.

On the basis of age group, the market has been segmented into 15-25, 26-35, 36-45, 46-55 and 56 and above. The 36-45 segment accounted for 24.2% of the global men’s underwear market in 2014 and is expected to register an annual growth rate of 5.8% by 2020.

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